India's Tryst with Corruption

As India is being recognized globally as an emerging economic powerhouse, its government continues to be plagued with the age old issue of corruption. Like most developing countries, India is no stranger to corruption which has been prevalent in the government and the corporate sectors for long. However, the recent spate of corruption allegations targeted towards different ministries of the government in the past year has brought this matter in a different light. When the ruling coalition government comprising the Congress party and its allies came to power in 2009, it was expected to use its position of strength in the Indian Parliament to legislate much required economic reforms. However, the coalition has fallen well short of expectations and the corruption scandals have only added to the frustration of the opposition and the general public.

The scam that has hogged headlines over the past couple of months and generated a furor not only among the opposition political parties but also among the media and public is the 2G-spectrum scam. Accusations have been leveled against the Telecommunications Ministry for misappropriations during the allotment of 2G licenses to telecom companies in 2008. The then telecommunications minister, A. Raja who submitted his resignation in November, has been accused of rigging the bidding process for the 2G licenses. He purportedly flouted the norms of the process by fixing the bidding prices at 2001 price levels, changing the rules of the auction and advancing the cut-off date for applications to favor certain companies participating in the process. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, the government was deprived of close to $40 billion owing to the manipulation of the auction which makes it the one of the biggest scandals in India since independence. The opposition parties have used this opportunity to gain political mileage and have disrupted Parliamentary proceedings by staging protests against the government’s soft stance on corruption within its own cabinet.

The 2G-spectrum scam follows further corruption allegations directed towards the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee. The Commonwealth Games which were held in Delhi in October 2010 cost the government close to $6 billion which made it the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever. The committee in charge of organizing the games has been accused of financial irregularities, mismanagement and overspending on supplies. The government has also been accused of allotting apartments in a residential tower project meant for war veterans and widows to bureaucrats and other government officials. More recently, senior officials at the state-owned Life Insurance Corporation Housing Finance Ltd. were arrested among allegations by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation that the concerned officials received bribes to grant corporate loans to a few real estate companies.

Though, cases of corruption in the government have been prevalent since time immemorial, the nature of the recent scandals has marred the public perception of the government. India ranks a low 87 in the Corruption Perception Index and if the recent cases are anything to go by, it is evident that the situation is not going to improve in the immediate future. These cases have also increased the pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is widely viewed as an honest and sincere politician. His apparent inability to contain subornment within his own cabinet has tarnished his public image. The government has desperately tried to defend itself from attacks from the opposition parties. Various ministers in the cabinet have argued that the issue has been blown out of proportion by the opposition and the media. Despite its efforts to put out the fire, the government has not been able to chart out a convincing action plan to eradicate corruption.

The 2G-spectrum scam is ample testimony to the fact that the roots of corruption run deep within the government and its entities. However, like most corruption scandals in the past, it may soon be brushed under the carpet. The matter cannot be redressed with the current bureaucratic and incentive structure in place. Tangible results can only be achieved through reforms in the incentive structure and educational system. Government officials must face strict repercussions for violating rules. It may also not be a bad idea to make ethics an important part of the educational system to ensure that individuals are inculcated with a sense of morals at an early stage. However, such proposals are easier said than done. Legislating and enforcing reforms in a teeming democracy like India is a gargantuan task. The need of the hour is political determination to effect change which the government seems to be currently lacking. It remains to be seen if the anti-corruption mechanism proposed by the Congress party which calls for expediting corruption cases against government officials, increasing transparency in awarding contracts and protecting whistle-blowers will be put in place as planned or is merely a knee-jerk reaction to the entire issue.

Though corruption is an issue faced by most developing countries, India can only successfully transition from the status of a developing country to a global superpower if it redresses the issue of rampant corruption. At this moment, one can only hope that the recent turn of events proves to be a turning point in Indian governance and that the government will finally take steps to rid India of this menace.


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